It’s hard to believe, but tonight South Park starts its sixteenth season on Comedy Central. Not bad for an animated show about a group of foul mouthed kids living in Colorado. Though it has waned in popularity from its apex in the early 2000s, it is still for my money one of the funniest shows out there and provides important social and cultural commentary, in between all the fart jokes.
I first stumbled upon South Park purely by accident. I was home sick on New Year’s Eve and was flipping through the channels while all my friends were off celebrating. I had heard rumblings about South Park, but didn’t think it was for me; I was still in college when it debuted and didn’t watch nearly as much television as I do now as I was for too busy drinking studying. But with limited options for entertainment – I’ve never been on for Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve – I settled on the South Park Marathon on Comedy Central. And from the first episode I watched,“Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo,” I was absolutely hooked (though slightly confused, as this was the only episode where Kenny didn’t die, so I didn’t get that joke until later). I became a loyal viewer that night and regularly tune in to watch the antics of Kyle, Stan, Cartman and Kenny.
Because the show is created the week before it goes to air (check out the Comedy Central documentary Six Days to Air to watch the process unfold), it is insanely topical and is often the first to react to major events. If the show is in production when a major cultural or political incident happens, I look forward to seeing what Trey Parker and Matt Stone have to say about it. They have a responsiveness that a lot of other shows don’t. If you can get past some of the crude humor, Parker and Stone have a rapier wit and often make very astute observations. They do some of the best parody in town. Back in my teaching days, I would even show some clips of their political shows during my classes to illustrate a point. I was especially fond of “I’m A Little Bit Country,” which deals with the drafting of the Declaration of Independence.
While South Park tends to focus primarily on the four boys, Parker and Stone have created an entire universe of interesting recurring characters that also reside in South Park. So in honor of the show’s return, here are my top 5 minor characters from South Park:
5. Tweek Tweak
Tweek first made his appearance in the episode “Gnomes” when the boys were forced to work with him on a group assignment. Tweek’s parents run the local coffee shop and the poor kid is overcaffinated and jittery all the time. He has a tough time handling stressful situations and is prone to freaking out a lot. He just makes me laugh and I definitely have my Tweek moments, even if they are internal. Tweek was given a moment to shine in season six when he briefly assumed Kenny’s spot in the group, but it was all too much for him and he had to bail.
Stone and Parker made some interesting choices when they created the character Satan; sure he’s the Prince of Darkness and evil incarnate, but he’s also openly gay, surprisingly vulnerable and often has more in common with a teenage girl than you would expect. That latter point was personified in one of my all-time favorite episodes, “Hell on Earth 2006,” that is a parody of the MTV abomination My Super Sweet 16. Satan is a good gateway character as well; if he shows up, that means he will also bring his much put upon assistant Demonius (who I can relate to) and we might get a glimpse of Satan’s former lover, Saddam Hussein.
3. Randy Marsh
The adults in South Park are not portrayed as being particularly smart or responsible and Stan’s dad Randy may be the worst of the bunch. Randy is featured in a lot of episodes because in a lot of ways he is just a big kid, trapped in an adult’s body. He often makes terrible decisions and wants to be considered cool. He has a hilarious backstory as a member of a boy bad. Of all the parents on the show, he is usually the best guarantee for a laugh.
2. Ike Broflovski
I have no idea why I find Ike so hilarious, but some reason he just always makes me smile. He doesn’t even really talk – though neither does Kenny – so perhaps it is the way he is animated. For whatever reason, I’m always excited when Kyle’s baby brother makes an appearance. It is no surprise then that one of my favorite recent episodes was the Ike-centric “Miss Teacher Bangs a Boy.” An Ike sighting is a rare treat for me, as the character doesn’t get a lot of air time.
I don’t think is a controversial choice, as Butters is a pretty popular character and is featured very frequently in the later episodes of South Park. He also filled in for Kenny in the group during Kenny’s prolonged death. Butters is such a sweet and trusting soul and really has not business hanging around a group of kids as worldly as Kyle, Stan, Cartman and Kenny. Cartman, in particular, exploits Butters naiveté, often with hilarious results. Butters just wants to be liked, so he’s willing to put up with a lot. But when he snaps and embraces his dark side, we get the awesomeness that is Professor Chaos, perhaps the worst super villain ever. If Butters makes an appearance in an episode, most of the time that means it will be hilarious.
Honorable mention: Starvin Marvin
Your turn – who are your favorite characters on South Park?
The season premiere of South Park is tonight at 10 pm on Comedy Central. Old episodes can be watched on line at South Park Studios.